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A SACRIFICE OF THANKSGIVING by Rev. Hurmon Hamilton

What can I give back to God for the blessings he's poured out on me? I'll lift high the cup of salvation—a toast to God! I'll pray… I'll complete what I promised GOD I'd do, and I'll do it together with his people. … I'm ready to offer the thanksgiving sacrifice..”
Psalm 116:15-19 (The Message)

During this Thanksgiving holiday season, we in Massachusetts, have much for which to be thankful. As it relates to healthcare, over 200,000 residents of this state, who were previously uninsured, now have quality health insurance through Commonwealth Care or MassHealth. This is due in no small measure to the historic and bold efforts of state officials, businesses, community and religious groups responsible for the creation of Chapter 58.

Laverne Barnes, a leader in my own church, now has quality insurance through Commonwealth Care and was able to receive a life saving surgery several months ago. She represents the many across the Commonwealth for whom affordable, accessible, quality Health Insurance has truly meant the difference between life and death. Surely among the 200,000 previously uninsured are those who would lay claim to the words of the Psalmist, “I’ll lift high the cup of salvation – a toast to God!” I would add a toast to all who worked so hard to make this historic reform possible, and a toast to all who are working so hard on enrollment and implementation.

On November 18, 2007 the Boston Globe reported two important new numbers: The first: by June 2008 nearly 180,000 people may be enrolled in Commonwealth Care. This is far above the original enrollment goal of 136,000 for this fiscal year. Great news!

The second: as a result of this tremendous enrollment success, the same Globe article reported that by June 2008, the State will most likely be facing a health care funding gap of nearly $147 million dollars. Add to this, Wednesday’s release from the Division of Healthcare Finance and Policy and the Division of Unemployment Assistance showing only $5 million of a projected $23 million collected from the employer assessment.

Together, these two later revelations may indicate that beyond toasting the success of high enrollment at the Thanksgiving table, we may need to consider a Thanksgiving Sacrifice. Indeed, in the paraphrased words of the Psalmist, “we must complete what we promised to do and complete it together with all the people”. It is worth noting that the foundation of this unprecedented, nationally watched reform stands on three pillars of commitment: The government, the individual and the employer. Each sector must be prepared, if called upon, to offer greater sacrifice, in contributing to the success of health reform as we determine to “complete what we have promised!” Now is the time for us to be inspired to say, “we - the government, individuals and employers of the Commonwealth of MA, will bear whatever burden and make whatever sacrifice required to finish the job of health care reform. And we will do it – “together”.

In addition to planning for the sacrifices ahead, there is an issue that the state must take bold and just action on in the immediate. A significant equity issue exists between those who are eligible for Commonwealth Care and those who are eligible for Commonwealth Choice in meeting the deadline for the mandate. Those eligible for Commonwealth Choice (residents with moderate to high incomes), have nearly another month to enroll in insurance and still be compliant with the law. On the other hand, those eligible for Commonwealth Care (individuals and families earning below 300% of the federal poverty level), were required to turn their first premium payment in to their newly selected insurance plans, on Wednesday, November 20, the effective deadline for the state subsidized program. Therefore, thousands of low-income uninsured, with a far shorter deadline, who are trapped at various stages of the enrollment process will, under current regulations, face a penalty, nevertheless. Therefore, due to the inequity in enrollment deadlines and to the fact that the penalties are designed to encourage people to enroll not to punish people for enrolling, we call on the Connector Board to take swift corrective action. We call on the Connector to continue to encourage all residents to enroll while at the same time guaranteeing that any resident who has applied by December 31, 2007 be compliant under the mandate and not face a penalty.

So in summary, how do we give thanks for the great blessings we are enjoying as a Commonwealth through the gift of historic health care reform – let us commit to act with justice toward all healthcare enrollees and prepare to offer whatever thankful sacrifices that may be required ahead “to complete what we promised to do and to complete it with all the people.” Happy Thanksgiving!

Reverned Hurmon HamiltonRev. Hurmon E. Hamilton, Jr
Senior Pastor of Roxbury Presbyterian Church USA
Chairman and CEO of Roxbury Presbyterian Church Social Impact Center, Inc.
President of the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization

This program aired on November 23, 2007. The audio for this program is not available.

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